How Does Big Blue Score?
Daniel Racz @Danny___Dimes
Few Giants fans expected an active free agency due to the 2021 NFL season’s lower salary cap. The Giants were set to see their top defensive lineman Leonard Williams and Dalvin Tomlinson hit the open market. It seemed unlikely that general manager Dave Gettleman would bring both players back, especially given his disapproval of backloading contracts to create cap space.
As free agency opened, Giants fans were disappointed. The early signing of Devontae Booker for three million dollars a year puzzled many supporters. However, as the week progressed, Big Blue added more high-profile players. Pass rusher Leonard Williams inked a massive extension averaging 21 million dollars annually. The Giants also signed Kyle Rudolph to a two-year deal. Later, Joe Judge and his staff hosted Kenny Golladay for a multi-day visit before offering the star pass-catcher a massive contract. The Giants closed out their free agency by recruiting ex-Titan cornerback Adoree’ Jackson to join their star-studded secondary.
After Daniel Jones’ rookie year, few Giants fans questioned their offense. However, during the 2020 season, everything fell apart. Saquon Barkley tore his ACL, Golden Tate became more of a nuisance than a meaningful contributor, and the offensive line graded out as PFF’s worst pass-blocking unit.
It was not a matter of if the New York Giants added a weapon during the offseason, but when. Kenny Golladay’s four-year, 72 million dollar contract should excite Giants fans. After hours of interviews and medical checks, the Giants felt comfortable giving him a top ten contract at his position. Golladay provides a crucial element to the Giants passing game: a deep third, contested-catch specialist. Daniel Jones has been a gunslinger for the Giants, but he has lacked the necessary weapons. Golladay should unleash Daniel Jones and open up the underneath area for Sterling Shepard, Saquon Barkley, and all the other playmakers.
While Golladay’s 18 million dollars annual salary is rather large considering the covid reduced cap, it is worth mentioning that the salary cap is expected to balloon in the coming years. New media deals and full stadiums should lead to large salary cap jumps each year. Golladay’s cap number is tough to swallow in 2021 but come 2023, it will seem like a bargain if he plays up to his potential.
Dave Gettleman’s mid-season trade for Leonard Williams during 2019 shocked the NFL. The Giants already had a formidable pair of interior defensive lineman in Dexter Lawrence and Dalvin Tomlinson, so many feared Williams would only provide diminishing returns. Gettleman gave up a third-round pick and a future fifth-round pick for the USC product and then-impending free agent. In defensive coordinator Patrick Graham’s defense, Williams provides a crucial role. He can pressure the quarterback from multiple spots and is a stout run defender.
Williams showed promise during his half-season with the Giants, and he earned a franchise tag. After a stellar 2020 year where Williams logged 11.5 sacks, he signed a contract extension paying him the same amount as Colts’ defensive lineman Deforest Buckner. While many want to compare Williams’ contract to Aaron Donald’s, Buckner provides a much more adequate comparison as they both were acquired via trade and are not perennial all pros. While both cost 21 million dollars per year, The Giants did not have to spend an additional first-round pick on their pass rusher.
Perhaps the most surprising signing of the Giants’ offseason came in the acquisition of ex-Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. While Rudolph is still a capable tight end, the Giants already have a pro bowler at the tight end position in Evan Engram. Rudolph has also regressed each of his past three years, but he still remains a red zone threat with his size.
Last year, Rudolph ranked third in target separation at the tight end position and seventh in QB rating when targeted, per playerprofiler. While Rudolph is not exciting, he knows how to consistently catch the football, something the Giants have lacked at the tight end position for far too long. Rudolph’s two-year, twelve-million dollar deal is reported to come with no guarantees in 2022, so he can be cut with no penalty if the Giants are not pleased with his play this season. Jason Garrett’s Giants offense used Evan Engram as a possession type receiver last year, as opposed to his more natural fit as a YAC specialist. Rudolph should take on the Jason Witten role, and free Evan Engram up to play as a receiver.
The final signing the New York Football Giants made involved Adoree’ Jackson, the speedy 2017 first-round cornerback out of USC. Jackson has familiarity with almost one-third of the Giants’ defense. Jackson played with Leonard Williams in college, coached Darnay Holmes years ago in southern California, and played alongside Logan Ryan in Tennessee. Ryan was called on to recruit Jackson the day before the Giants offered Adoree’ a three-year, 39 million dollar contract.
Is Adoree’ Jackson a good player when healthy? Yes. Does Adoree’ Jackson immediately become the Giants’ second outside cornerback and give them a top-five secondary in the NFL? Yes. Is that player worth 13 million dollars per year? Debatable. Jackson’s injury concerns are not something that the Giants should brush off.
Jackson’s PFF grades in his first three years were 73 or higher, suggesting he was an above-average player. However, he produced a below-average grade of 58.7 during his injury-riddled 2020 season. If Jackson can lock down the opponent’s number two receivers and help bring back the NYPD (New York Pass Defense) then his signing will be productive, but the price tag is still a bit rich for my blood.
The Giants entered free agency with one clear goal: Put Daniel Jones in a position to succeed. With their offensive additions, Daniel will have every chance to lead the Giants to the playoffs. And, if Jones busts, the Giants’ roster will be in great shape to take on another young quarterback. The Giants did not neglect their defense either, as Adoree’ Jackson can push the unit into an upper-echelon group.
It is impossible to determine whether the big money that the Giants handed out during the 2021 offseason was positive or negative for at least one year. The last time the Giants doled out massive contracts was during the 2016 offseason. And, while those veteran signings catapulted the Giants into the playoffs for one year, they have had a top twelve pick during the past four drafts.
The front office stressed that this free agency, they pursued younger players. While this seems like the proper process, the results are far more important. If the Giants manage to have a winning record next year with an explosive offense and a top-tier defense, then we can declare this free agency a success, at least for the time being.
Overall Grade: A-